Down in the Boondocks

The GCO and National Clearance Delivery              

You find yourself at a God forsaken air strip and you’re thinking that your Mooney’s navigational system has transported you to the planet Tatooine.  Perhaps you can communicate with Flight Service through a nearby VOR or Remote Communications Outlet (RCO). Nope. None of those around! You draw your cell phone and . . . No bars – no signal. Now what?

Perhaps the airport has a GCO or Ground Communications Outlet. But, you’ve never heard of a GCO and have no idea how it works! This is a relatively new technology that allows you to communicate with Flight Service Stations and Air Traffic Control (ATC) facilities for the purpose of filing, opening and closing VFR or IFR flight plans; obtaining weather briefings and IFR clearances. Airports like Petaluma, CA (O69) have have a GCO that uses a 2 to 5 watt VHF radio receiver to “ground link” through a modem to the Approach Controller, Center Controller, or Flight Service Station.

A GCO uses the airport’s listed frequency (either 121.725 or 135.075 ). If you want to talk with ATC, click the mic four times. FSS can be contacted with six “clicks”.

The system will ask you to click the mic twice if it is dialing the correct location. If it’s dialing FSS and you want ATC,  wait five seconds and start again.

When the briefer or controller answers, just communicate your needs.

There is a timer on the modem connection and if no voice is heard for sixty seconds, you’ll hear, “timing out”.  Just key the mike once within three seconds, and that will give you another 30 seconds of air time.

If the system is not responsive, try repositioning your aircraft and locate to a spot with a clearer path to the antennae.

To terminate the call, click the mic three to five times while the frequency is clear. Wait six seconds before trying another call.

Using your Cell Phone

Flight Service

Everyone knows that you can call for a weather briefing or file a flight plan using the Lockheed Flight Service 800 number, 992-7433 (WX-BRIEF). However, few pilots know about the National Clearance Delivery 888 number. If you have already received a weather briefing and have an IFR flight plan on file, you can get an IFR  clearance by calling 766-8267. I have used it and it works great.

IFR pilots should consider program this number into their cell phones.

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